JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – RANDOLPH, Texas – A common question Airmen ask regarding innovation is “How do I get my unit to embrace innovation?” According to HQ Air Education and Training Command’s Innovation Advancement Division, an Airman’s daily actions can foster an environment that leads their unit to embrace an innovation culture.
Below are five tips Airmen can take to strengthen their unit’s innovation culture.
1. Create an environment of innovation
Work areas can aid in creating an environment to provoke creative thought. Develop a workplace where team members feel comfortable to openly express and share new ideas without facing a crowd of doubters, sceptics and naysayers.
2. Analyze successes and losses
An unsuccessful project provides an opportunity to leverage lessons learned. If a project fails, learn from the data and try again. A successful project can outline pathways and provide insight for concepts. Fact-based hotwashes of swings and misses provide valuable insight for future innovative efforts.
3. Be open to change
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown’s action orders highlights the need for all Airmen to aggressively move forward and push toward change. Be the change agent.
4. Do not expect perfection
Innovations start with an idea, which innovators develop into a concept, then experiment and, if all goes well, effect long-term change to operations. Anticipate trial and error (think Thomas Edison and the lightbulb). Innovations may take multiple iterations to achieve success.
5. Foster innovation across all levels
Innovative ideas can come from all Airmen, across the Total Force. An individual’s personal experiences can lead them to innovative ideas and those innovative ideas can lead to an innovation. Rank, position or career field is not necessarily a factor. Sometimes the most dramatic change comes from a “fresh pair of eyes.”
According to Col. Thomas F. Wegner, HQ AETC’s director of Analysis and Innovation, implementing these five tips can increase a unit’s ability to solve challenges, enhance the innovation culture, and turn creative ideas into innovations.
“Commanders should encourage their Airmen to challenge assumptions and envision a whole new approach to solving problems,” he said. “Then, give their Airmen an environment where they have the freedom to experiment and learn what works and what doesn’t. Airmen with this level of innovative freedom will develop the next ground-breaking innovation. It’s just a matter of time.”